Fennelly: Chase Elliott's ascendancy runs out of gas

DAYTONA BEACH — He's going to win a lot of races.2 Days Ago1 Week Ago2 Weeks AgoJust not the one held Sunday.The new face of NASCAR ran out of gas.Chase Elliott, the pole-sitter, the son of racing royalty, was bearing down on a coronation. He was three...

Fennelly: Chase Elliott's ascendancy runs out of gas

DAYTONA BEACH — He's going to win a lot of races.

2 Days Ago

1 Week Ago

2 Weeks Ago

Just not the one held Sunday.

The new face of NASCAR ran out of gas.

Chase Elliott, the pole-sitter, the son of racing royalty, was bearing down on a coronation. He was three laps from winning his first race in his game's top series — and it was only the Daytona 500, the sport's Super Bowl.

He had grabbed the lead in the 175th lap and held it fast. Three laps to go. Around and around he went.

Then came a feeling as empty as his fuel tank.

Who wasn't running low on gas as the Great American Demolition Derby drew toward a finish? This after a day filled with wrecks, cars and big names heading to the garage. Kyle Busch. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jimmie Johnson. Star after star.

Out of all that mess, it looked like it was going to be a storybook ending for Elliott, all of 21, in front of his famous father. Hall of Famer Bill Elliott won his last Daytona 500 in 1987, 30 years ago.

It all fit.

And then it didn't fit at all.

Chase Elliott's car sputtered. His tank emptied. He chugged and clunked and fumed it across the finish line, back in 14th place. Bill Elliott's son, the pole-sitter for the second year in a row, came up short. Kurt Busch won his first Daytona 500.

Elliott left with his father, without speaking to the media. He should have stopped and talked. He eventually issued a quote through Chevrolet, his car manufacturer.

"It was a disappointing finish to a good day," Elliott said. "Just one of those things you can't do anything about."

He also tweeted, "Because they chose to stay on the end of the pit road w the top finishing drivers. I was never approached by ANY person in the media after waiting."

Tough night for the kid.

Hey, it happens to the best of them.

Why, just Sunday morning, before the race, Mario Andretti, 76, one of the all-time racing greats and the 1967 Daytona 500 champion, was talking … gas. Andretti was in Daytona as an honorary race official.

"I wonder what one gallon of fuel would have meant to me, career wise," Andretti said. "I started thinking, 'I wonder what one gallon of fuel would have meant to me, the time I lost a championship, lost races.' … I came down to four IndyCar races, two Formula 1 races, one IndyCar championship, one world championship. One gallon of fuel would have brought me all of that."

It happens.

What if Chase Elliott hadn't run out of gas? Did he run too hard and not conserve? Did his team miscalculate?

"He ran out of gas, so there are really no what-ifs," said second-place finisher Ryan Blaney, 23. "If wishes were fishes, the world would be an ocean. … You never know if they would have made a run or not. So unfortunately he ran out. I was pulling for him."

Third-place finisher AJ Allmendinger said he could understand Elliott being too upset to talk.

"He's going to win so many races," Allmendinger said. "Ryan and Chase and all those young guys are going to win a ton of races, Kyle Larson (who's 24) and those type of guys. But it's hard to know how many chances you're going to have at the Daytona 500. But he had a dominant car. I can understand it. It's hard."

"His car was really, really good," Blaney said. "I can understand the disappointment. You're leading the race. Looks like you're going to win the Daytona 500."

Elliott won the 500 pole last year but wrecked before the first pit stops. He had chances at winning Cup races last season, but it never happened. He still had a fabulous rookie season, with more top-10 finishes than even series champion and Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson. Elliott finished 10th in the driver standings and made the Chase for the Championship. His future was and is limitless.

"He definitely had the car to beat," Kurt Busch said of Elliott.

"He's going to win," Johnson said last week. "He's going to win a lot. Once he rings the bell the first time, he's not going to stop, and then championships will be next on his radar."

Sunday rang hollow.

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